I have been asked to address the question of the structure of the universe as it is related to its purpose, under the assumption that God created it. This question has great personal interest to me, as it was one of the pressing questions that concerned me when I was in my teens. It was through an unsolicited encounter with God that it was answered.
It was in my seventeenth year that a number of personal challenges caused me to ponder the meaning of life more deeply than I ever had before. Late one evening, I was sitting in the kitchen of my family's home on Garfield Place in Brooklyn, New York, a mere block away from Prospect Park, in the fashionable neighborhood of Park Slope. The kitchen occupied the back of the first floor. There were two large windows on the left, covered by Venetian blinds, that looked out on an alley formed by the house and the building next door, which was a Jewish synagogue . Against the back wall stood a large, cream-colored ceramic sink with rounded corners circa 1930--my grandmother bathed me in it when I was a baby--and to its right was a gas stove from the same period. There was a large kitchen table at the center of this space, which I have to this day. It was a rather ancient piece, probably once belonging to my grandfather, antiques collector and interior decorator Charles Duveen Sr. All was lit by fluorescent lighting from above. It was late evening, and I had a radio, perched atop a chair and tuned to one of my favorite FM radio programs, "Listening with Watson." The host, William Watson , was featuring the music of composers from the French Baroque. The compositions were particularly appealing to me, with their rich tonalities and regal orchestration, making ample use of trumpets and drums.
While listening to the music and brooding over my problems, I thought to myself, "Maybe there is no meaning to life." and was resigned to that possibility. But as the succeeding moments passed I gradually became aware that the music was becoming incredibly, palpably more beautiful. Then, as the moments passed, my surroundings became intensely beautiful as well, so much so that they seemed to glow. I soon became attuned to the significance of the moment. I was having an audience with God.
During this encounter, I came to an understanding that all was good, and that such was the natural state. The burden of what we know of as everyday life was unnatural. I also became aware that my sins had been forgiven. This is said, not from the perspective of any religion, but from the impression that was conveyed to me at that moment.
As it became evident that I had entered into the presence of God, it made me wonder why it was I who was having this encounter, and not the local parish clergy of the Catholic Church that I belonged to. Father John Kean, a very kind Catholic priest in my parish of St. Francis Xavier Church on Carroll Street, was the particular cleric who came to mind. He seemed quite spiritual, devout, and helpful. Why was I having this profound visitation, and not Father Kean? In response to my reflection, I was told that the lights were turned out in the Catholic Church. That is the image, or impression that was conveyed to me. This statement is not meant as a criticism of the Catholic Church, which from time to time has arguably has done much good. I only impart here, not my viewpoint, but what was conveyed to me during my audience with God.
I also became aware, or was told, that God never intended evil. This, of course, was an amazing realization. God never intended evil to come into the world.
The particular night in question having been in 1967, some forty seven years ago, I cannot remember every detail. But being in the midst of this incredible change in consciousness, the intense realization of beauty around me, and the distinct presence of God, I decided to bring this peculiar and uplifting state of mind with me to the Staten Island Ferry. The ferry, which crosses New York Bay from the southern tip of Manhattan to Staten Island, cost only a nickel at the time, and it was common for New Yorkers to take the trip merely for the pleasure of it.
Just out the door of my home, at an hour well past midnight, I stopped at the corner of Eighth Avenue and Garfield Place, in front of the synagogue which was immediately next door to my family's house. Looking up over the temple dome and through the overhanging branches of a large oak that stood at the corner of the street, I saw the planet Mars high in the sky. Gazing at the planet's mild reddish glow, a sight familiar to me since childhood, I came to understand and sense that this seemingly distant body was not really in some far-away place. Rather. I felt as much present on Mars as I did on that Brooklyn street corner, even though it was millions of miles away. There was no reason to travel to Mars to be there. I was there already.
I then continued on my journey along Eighth Avenue, to Brooklyn's Grand Army Plaza subway station, trotted down the first flight of stairs, paid my fare at the token booth, and descended a second set of stairs to the the subway platform. Pacing back and forth while waiting for the subway, the title of a book, "God Is My Co-Pilot," came to mind . I could feel the presence of God that strongly. God was right there with me. I boarded the train, and disembarked at the ferry terminal, paid my fare at the toll booth and walked aboard the ferry.
As the commuter vessel departed its berth and cruised over New York Bay, I peered over the railing into the waves below, which were barely visible from the reflection of the ferry's lights, and realized that if I jumped over the railing and into the water, it would make no difference, that I would not die, that my life was eternal. At the same time, I felt no trace of an inclination to jump off. Why should I, if it didn't matter?
I then stood there looking out over the ferry's bow over the ocean and into the dark horizon, and said to myself, articulating a deep realization of the moment, "That's the reason for living--Existence!"
Through this seemingly simple but profound understanding, I became aware of the intimate relationship between love and beauty, and what these characteristics really were. Love was that by which we become aware of the existence of another entity. Beauty was the awareness of our own existence through that other entity. I used the words "awareness" because the existence of the things and people around us seem to be self-evident, but a deeper appreciation of their existence was another matter. One can see that something exists, but feel alienated from it and everything else. Perception, or awareness, of existence is on a more profound level than merely recognizing that something is there. So also is a perception or awareness of our own existence. Beauty itself, the beauty we see in another entity, is actually the awareness of our own existence through that entity. Naturally, love and beauty are intimately related. How can we become aware of our own existence through something else, unless we also have a deep awareness of the existence of that something else? By one, love, we become aware of the other's existence. By the other, beauty, we become aware of our own existence through the other. What I also found was that, in becoming deeply aware of the existence of the rest of the world, and in becoming aware of my own existence, the presence of God was manifest. In fact, the three are inseparable. Usually, however, our feelings of beauty and love are so weak that we do not connect them with the presence of God. If we were to sense and feel such sensations to a higher degree, we would understand that we are actually coming into the presence of God whenever we encounter beauty and love.
I of course returned home early that morning with a completely new realization of the existence of God, not as a belief, but as a fact, a reality. The purpose of life had also been disclosed to me. These are earthshaking revelations, and their profundity was in no wise lost on me.
That night, I attended a party, and could not help but share my revelation with some of the guests. I started talking about it. Some people listened, but one must remember that what I had to say was not the typical message from God. One person challenged me, and based on what he read of the philosopher Martin Heidegger, said that "being" would be a more appropriate word than "existence." But I more or less stubbornly retained my own wording, "Existence," because that was part of my personal realization at the time. I did not arrive at this conclusion through some intellectual train of thought, but by becoming directly aware of it. Later on, someone said that what I proposed was merely another definition, but this was to me more than a definition. It was a revelation, an intense realization with new content. Furthermore, my being and consciousness had been transformed by this event, and remained so, in spite of my other travails, which were rather overpowering, for as much as a year.